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Academy of American Poets receives its largest-ever donation

Attendees at the One Word Poetry Festival's Youth Poet Laureate Commencement in Rock Hill, S.C., in 2022.
Mick Lowry
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Academy of American Poets
Attendees at the One Word Poetry Festival's Youth Poet Laureate Commencement in Rock Hill, S.C., in 2022.

Writers all over the United States get support from The Academy of American Poets. Its programming, which includes classroom materials and public readings, reaches millions of Americans.

Last year, the organization gave out 22 Poet Laureate fellowships of $50,000 each. Recipients ranged from Hawaii's Brandy Nālani McDougall to South Carolina's Glenis Redmond to New Hampshire's Diannely Antigua. There are other ways to become a poet laureate — for example, a governor or mayor can name a poet to the position in their city or state — but these fellowships are intended to help poets connect with their communities, with an emphasis on young people, and to create new work.

In 2020, the Poet Laureate program received a $4.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, enough to support it for the next three years. On Wednesday, the Mellon Foundation announced it would top that grant with an additional $5.7 million to support both the Poet Laureates and the Poetry Coalition, a national alliance of more than 30 organizations working together to promote poetry.

Judy Brackett Crowe, left, Janeen Singer, Kirsten Casey and Susanna Wilson mail out copies of Molly Fisk's <em>California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology </em>in 2019. Both Fisk and Casey have served as poet laureate for Nevada County, Calif.
Molly Fisk / Academy of American Poets
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Academy of American Poets
Judy Brackett Crowe, left, Janeen Singer, Kirsten Casey and Susanna Wilson mail out copies of Molly Fisk's California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology in 2019. Both Fisk and Casey have served as poet laureate for Nevada County, Calif.

The gift is the largest philanthropic donation in the organization's history. The Academy of American Poetsdates back to 1934. It was founded by a 23-year-old poet and astronomer, Marie Bullock, an American educated in Paris who came back to New York and married a Wall Street titan.

"We are so pleased to continue supporting the Academy as it furthers its vital mission through the Poet Laureate Fellowships and the Poetry Coalition," said Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander in a statement. "These are programs that uplift poets and their work across the United States, creating opportunities for learning and community among readers of multiple generations and cultures. This renewed funding will help to ensure that all of us can access the beauty and wisdom found within the rich and enduring practice of poetry."

Artist David Addicks, left, speaks with Houston Poet Laureate Outspoken Bean and producer Russell Guess in 2022.
Tammy Dowe / Academy of American Poets
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Academy of American Poets
Artist David Addicks, left, speaks with Houston Poet Laureate Outspoken Bean and producer Russell Guess in 2022.

"Throughout history, poets have helped us examine ourselves and our responsibilities to each other," said Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets. "The Academy believes that poetry is best served by a wide range of national and regional actions, and includes a spectrum of voices that speak directly to the communities of which we are a part."

Programs backed by the Poetry Coalition reach more than 30 million individuals annually, according to the organization. In 2023, it hosted a series focusing on themes of grief. It included readings, workshops and various publications and was called "and so much lost you'd think / beauty had left a lesson: Poetry & Grief."

The title was taken from a poem by Ed Roberson, a Chicago-based writer who teaches at Northwestern University and is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.